Ride IllinoisRide Illinois
June 25, 2024

2024 YBS: Youth Lead the Way!

The positive energy and enthusiasm for bicycles was palpable at the 2024 Youth Bike Summit (YBS) that took place in Allentown, PA from June 14-16. Ride Illinois’ Executive Director, Dave Simmons, attended the youth-focused event to learn from and connect with about 225 adults and young people from across the country. The 2024 YBS was hosted by Community Bike Works – a great organization that “teaches life lessons through bicycles” – and led by the National Youth Bike Council.

The theme of the event was “Youth Lead the Way.” We’re pleased to share this brief recap of our experience. Joining Dave on the road trip from Illinois were two new friends each from West Town Bikes (Justin G and Pablo G) and The Recyclery (Tzippora R and Randy D). 

Friday: Registration Assistance and Group Rides

The Illinois group arrived at Muhlenburg College in Allentown (the site of the YBS) at 10pm on Thursday, June 13th after a 13-hour drive. We awoke early on Friday, June 14th to assist the event organizers with registration. As attendees who were borrowing bikes arrived, we helped them choose an appropriately-sized bike that they could use for the weekend. It was a fun way to start the day and get to know the volunteers and organizers!

In the afternoon, several group rides were offered. Some opted for the ride entitled “Slightly Hilly Country Ride with Beautiful Views” and the ride through the Pennsylvania countryside did not disappoint! Others chose a ride to explore some natural sites at one of the best mountain bike destinations in the Lehigh Valley. Heavy rain rolled in and shortened the rides, but didn’t dampen the spirits of YBS attendees. Those who participated in the Slightly Hilly ride sought shelter at a local farm and had an opportunity to visit with some sheep and enjoy some fresh peas before hopping on a bus back to Muhlenberg College. An evening of fun games and good conversation followed.

Offering encouragement along the route of the 'Slightly Hilly' ride
Visiting with some sheep at the rest stop at a farm outside Allentown

Saturday: Keynote and Breakout Sessions

Saturday began with an inspirational keynote from Randy Neufeld, formerly with the SRAM Cycling Fund, and was followed by a panel discussion with youth leaders from several organizations, including the National Youth Bike Council, Youth Bike America, Phoenix Bikes, and Bikes Not Bombs. Those who are lacking hope for the future should look no further than the amazing young people working in bike advocacy!

Next up were thought-provoking breakout sessions that were offered throughout the morning and afternoon. Some notable sessions included:

  • Examining American Car Culture: The (Bike) Path Less Taken
  • Empowering Girls Through Biking: Bringing Girls in Gear to Your Community
  • Making Your Neighborhood Bike and Pedestrian Friendly: Policy = Action
  • The Importance of Youth in Local Bike Shops

A trip (by bike, of course) for a behind the scenes tour of Community Bike Works flagship location was a highlight of the afternoon. The tour included an overview of the bike shop by youth leaders and an explanation of the organization’s programs. The leadership and communication skills that the youth leaders and mentors possess are noteworthy. The youth help craft the programs and classes that Community Bike Works offers, including the Earn-a-Bike program that is completed by 600+ youth each year.

Neufeld, who lived in Allentown for several years during his youth, led us on a tour of the neighborhood – including a stop at the Juneteenth celebration in a Union Terrace Park.

Panel discussion with youth leaders from several organizations, moderated by Randy Neufeld
A tour of Community Bike Works to learn about their successful Earn-a-Bike program

Sunday: The Big Ride

The culmination of the 2024 Youth Bike Summit was ‘The Big Ride’ which departed Muhlenberg College at 10am for a 10-mile ride to SteelStacks – the site of the Bethlehem Steel Plant which is now an amazing event space with the otherworldly and eerie backdrop of a retired steel plant. Nearly 200 adults and youth enjoyed the slow roll which was led by Allentown mayor, Matt Tuerk. The group took to the roads of Allentown and the D&L Canal Trail en masse with passersby honking, waving, and cheering. Few sights are more invigorating and joyful than a group of youth on bikes rolling down the road! Include the tour of the decommissioned steel plant and the final day of the 2024 YBS is one attendees won’t soon forget!

The 2024 YBS culminated with a tasty lunch, a few speeches, and an announcement that the 2025 Youth Bike Summit will take place from May 30 thru June 1 in Boston, MA and will be hosted by Bikes Not Bombs and Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition. The golden handlebars – a ceremonial passing of the YBS torch to the next host organization – was met with hoots and hollers from the adults and youth who were enjoying some sunshine while relaxing on the lawn. It was a great way to end the 2024 YBS and soak up the hope and enthusiasm that the next generation of leaders exude.

The Illinois group drove home after the YBS culminated on Sunday. There was plenty of great discussion and reflections to share to pass time on the 12-hour trip home. New friendships were forged and opportunities for future collaboration were discussed during the drive.

Rolling through the streets of Allentown during The Big Ride
Touring the decommissioned Bethlehem Steel Plant

Key Takeaways

The 2024 Youth Bike Summit was an invigorating experience! Given the strong focus on the young people who will be the leaders of tomorrow, we can’t help but have hope for the future. That future will include more everyday trips by bike in communities of all sizes!

Tzippora’s, the Youth Program Coordinator at The Recyclery in Chicago, shared some reflections after the YBS:

  • “One takeaway for me was hearing from some of the attending organizations about the different directions that flow from initial bike mechanics and riding education programs. Some work with youth to build their organizing and advocacy skills; others help youth follow their passions to learn whatever skills are most tantalizing to them; still others focus on providing ongoing employment opportunities featuring and deepening youth mechanics skills.”
  • “Of all of the conferences and summits that I’ve ever attended, the YBS had a special added layer of meaning. By centering youth and providing youth with new and empowering experiences, the YBS has inherent impact beyond the usual networking and sharing of ideas.”

For Ride Illinois, the 2024 YBS was an opportunity to learn, reflect, and make connections. Some initial takeaways that will be incorporated into our advocacy, education, and awareness efforts include:

  • Young people love riding their bikes. The decades-long focus on travel by motor vehicle has lead to the current, broken transportation system that far too many Americans face each day. The transportation planners and engineers of the future will work to make moving about by bike and on foot safer and more connected.
  • Young people have some really great ideas. Their opinions matter and they must be taken seriously by elected officials and decision makers. Adults are encouraged to support the youth of their community to ensure that their voices are heard.
  • The energy of young people is infectious. They are oozing with energy and ideas. Empowering youth is paramount to fast-tracking positive societal change and building stronger communities.
  • Many young people aren’t interested in driving. Investing in safe, connected bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure will transform how children and adults move about their communities. The benefits to people, communities, and the planet are numerous.
  • Ride Illinois must be intentional in our outreach to young people. Organizations must focus time and resources toward youth in order to thrive and survive. Our staff and board will determine how to incorporate input and ideas from Illinois youth into our programs, events, and campaigns.

In summary, the 2024 Youth Bike Summit was an eye-opening, meaningful experience to learn from and engage with young people. It was an important event for Ride Illinois to attend. The lessons learned and the connections made will be leveraged to update and develop programs that have an intentional focus on future generations. Youth lead the way!

Contact Dave Simmons at dave@rideillinois.org with questions about Ride Illinois’ experience at the 2024 Youth Bike Summit. Learn about the Youth Bike Summit, including details of the 2025 event, at youthbikesummit.org

The Illinois group enjoying breakfast (and coffee) on the first morning of the YBS
A visit with Anna and Riley from League of American Bicyclists